Acupuncture for migraines and headaches

acupuncture for migraines and headaches

Acupuncture for migraines and headaches

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can be very effective in treating migraines and headaches. Western medicine conventionally treats headaches with pharmaceuticals and achieves varying results. Chinese medicine takes a different approach by identifying the root cause of the headache from an energetic perspective. Each person is unique, and two people can have the same kind of headache for very different reasons. So, rather than relying on headache medication, acupuncture and Chinese medicine prescribe a customized solution tailored to the individual needs of the patient.


Migraines and headaches can be debilitating, making even the simplest tasks feel overwhelming. They can range from a dull ache, a feeling of squeezing or pressure, to a stabbing pain. Headaches can also be so painful that the only option is to rest in a dark, quiet, cool room.  Migraines can be accompanied by visual disturbances, numbness in the body, and even nausea.


Underlying causes

During an acupuncture appointment, the practitioner will conduct a thorough intake and work on getting to the root cause of why the headache is occurring. I personally examine a variety of possible contributing factors. For example, these can include: allergies, anger, dehydration, diet, hormones, illness, injuries, jaw tension, posture, sleep issues, stress, weather, and other environmental triggers. It’s important to know how long the headache has been present, how often headaches occur, and how long they typically last. Other things to consider are what the pain feels like, what makes the headache feel worse, and what makes the headache feel better.


Location is important

It’s also important to know where on the head the headache is occurring. The main areas are:

  • Occipital and nape of the neck: At the back of the head where the head meets the neck
  • Frontal: On the front of the head, including the forehead, eyes, and cheeks
  • Temporal: At one or both temples and the sides of the head
  • Parietal or Vertex: On the top of the head


Chinese medicine diagnosis

Acupuncturists diagnose headaches from an energetic perspective. Headaches most often fall into one of three categories: an excess of energy, a deficiency of energy, or what is called an invasion of pathogenic wind into the body.


When the headache is caused by an excess of energy, this means that the energy from the body is rushing up to the head rather than circulating smoothly through the body. A person experiencing this kind of headache will feel irritable, have severe pain on one or both sides of the head, and may have eye pain or blurred vision.


A deficiency-type headache is one that can be lingering. This kind of headache usually feels better with warmth and worse with cold.


A headache caused by an invasion of pathogenic wind occurs after exposure to wind, usually on the back of the neck. It is typically first felt in the nape of the neck. This can later extend up the back of the head to the forehead. When this external pathogen enters the body, it obstructs the flow of energy in the body, causing pain. After the acupuncturist determines whether the headache is caused by excess, deficiency, or external pathogenic wind, they identify which acupuncture channels are affected based on the symptoms and location of the pain.



Often a combination of methods will restore the balance of energy in the body and relieve a headache or migraine. Usually, the primary treatment is acupuncture. The acupuncturist inserts fine needles into to acupuncture points in the body to balance the energy based on the diagnosis.


I usually include ear seeds to support the treatment. Ear seeds can also serve as a standalone treatment for headaches. Click here to read my blog about ear seeds. When I am treating a patient who has a headache, I will often palpate the areas on the ear that correspond to frontal, temporal, occipital, and vertex headaches. I place ear seeds on any tender areas as well as areas that correspond to the location of the headache. It’s not unusual for parts of the ear to be red, reflecting the energetic congestion experienced in the body.


Depending on what was uncovered during the intake, I also counsel patients on nutrition and lifestyle if it appears that anything in those areas may be contributing to the headache. Frequently, increasing hydration, reducing stress, and avoiding certain types of foods can be helpful. I often recommend qigong exercises and guided visualizations to help prevent future headaches.



When to see a Doctor

It’s important to see a doctor if you are experiencing headaches consistently, if your headaches are increasing in frequency or severity, or if you are unable to perform your usual activities. Doctors will often prescribe acupuncture for migraines and headaches once they have ruled out any serious conditions.


Seek medical attention immediately if you experience the worst headache you’ve ever had, vomit uncontrollably, or lose vision or consciousness.

Click this link for advice from WebMD on how to decide when to seek medical attention for your headache.


About the Author

Ericca Burke is the owner of HAVEN Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine where she provides acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatments in Wilmington, NC. Click this link to read more about Ericca. 


About HAVEN Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine in Wilmington, NC

HAVEN Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine is an acupuncture and Chinese medicine practice located in Wilmington, NC just minutes from beautiful Wrightsville Beach. Click this link for contact information and directions. Click this link for a listing and description of services offered.